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White House Briefing

Aired February 15, 2002 - 12:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, to the White House and Ari Fleischer, on a Friday afternoon, the eve of the president's trip to Asia. South Korea, Japan and China, on that itinerary. Now being told that Ari Fleischer beginning right now, with Colin Powell's comments about -- on MPV (sic) from last night.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ...very avid supporters of President Bush, what does President Bush tell them to calm their concern and those who say that they want the president to repudiate what the secretary said?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president and the secretary are shoulder to shoulder on the importance of both abstinence education as well as health education and sex education as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and as a way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. What the president has done, and what Secretary Powell has long been involved in, is highlight for the first time the importance of abstinence education.

QUESTION: He supports sex education for international groups who are trying to spread the word?

FLEISCHER: Clearly, it's a part of the president's budget, Helen.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you mentioned that the two American missionaries, hostages in the Philippines. Do you have an update on their status, whether there's any chance of getting them released? Also on Daniel Pearl. And what does the president's trip say to the whole issue of terrorism at this time?

FLEISCHER: There are no updates on anything new on the status of Mr. Pearl or the hostages in the Philippines.

FLEISCHER: One of the purposes of the trip is to discuss our combined efforts to fight terrorism, and that's one of the reasons he's going. But it's also a reflection of the trip -- this was a trip that was originally scheduled to take place in October last year, just a little over one month after the attack. The president went as part of the APEC summit in Shanghai. He was going to at that time visit Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, had to cancel that portion of it because he did not want to spend that much time out of the country. So this is also a trip that's a reflection of promises made and promises kept. The president did assure our allies that he wanted to visit, and he's keeping his word.

QUESTION: But he's not concerned about terrorism at this time?

FLEISCHER: The president is always concerned about terrorism, but the question is terrorism vis-a-vis the safety of the president traveling, the president has no concerns about that. The Secret Service, as always, does a superb job.

QUESTION: Ari, the House passed yet another stimulus bill. Nobody really thinks that the Senate is going to take that up. Is the president at all concerned that maybe that's just really a political move and that it might be delaying unemployment benefits for people who have suffered and basically delaying that and putting a political issue on the table instead?

FLEISCHER: No, I think that's perfectly consistent with what the president said when the Senate passed the 13-week extension of unemployment. The president made it clear that that was the least that the Congress could do. And obviously it's important not only to help people to get an unemployment check, it's important to let people keep their paychecks so they don't have to rely on unemployment.

So the president continues to look at this as a matter of importance to both stimulate the economy and get help to displaced workers.

QUESTION: Well, does he support a stand-alone bill for unemployment benefits? Would he like the House to do that on its own?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, the president thought it was the least that the Congress should do, and now you have a chance with the House has passed something, the Senate has passed something, the president thinks it's important for the Congress to get together and come out with a final product.

QUESTION: Ari, Egypt has announced that CIA Director Tenet will be in Cairo on Saturday. Can you give us the context of that visit, tell us whether or not (inaudible)?

FLEISCHER: I would refer you to CIA. I don't speak for his travels.

QUESTION: Ari, if the president does make a decision today on Yucca Mountain, would you expect him to make that announcement or would you expect it to come in a written statement?

FLEISCHER: Whenever the president has something to say, one way or another, it will be communicated to the press.

QUESTION: You're still not ruling out today, right?

FLEISCHER: I have not ruled that out.

QUESTION: On another matter, does the White House have any standing objections to the state of play on campaign finance reform, including, among other things, the fact that some outside groups were involved in writing parts of the legislation?

FLEISCHER: On the first part of your question, no, there are no updates from what I said yesterday on campaign finance.

FLEISCHER: On the second, I think you are referring to a story that we've now all read and seen, was confirmed true that Common Cause wrote a section of the campaign finance bill.

I think if you reversed the roles and if Common Cause ever heard that the National Rifle Association or the Right To Life or any other outside groups wrote a piece of legislation, they would be the first to complain, and complain loudly, that Congress should not allow people who are not congressmen and senators to write legislation. They would be the first to decry the practice of lobbyists writing legislation. Yet they themselves have engaged in the very act that they decry.

It does seem to me to be the height of hypocrisy for Common Cause to have written a section of a bill that obviously was so controversial that it was pulled at the last minute, if they decry that practice for others.

QUESTION: Now, is your objection to the fact that they were involved -- I mean, obviously a lot of groups who have an interest in campaign finance reform would be involved in the process.

FLEISCHER: My point is that it's the hypocrisy. I think it's a time-honored part of Congress for them to reach out to people who share their views or who are expert in certain fields to ask what they think about pieces of legislation or to be involved in the drafting.

But I think it's very notable that Common Cause, which decries that practice when others do it, engages in it themselves. I just think it's a reflection of Common Cause, not a broader reflection about Washington.

(LEFT IN PROGRESS)

HEMMER: Ari Fleischer in the press room there at the White House. We're going to leave Ari here for a moment here.

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